Martha Marcy May Marlene

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Martha Marcy May Marlene
Martha Marcy May Marlene.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySean Durkin
Written bySean Durkin
Produced by
CinematographyJody Lee Lipes
Edited byZac Stuart-Pontier
Music by
  • Daniel Bensi
  • Saunder Jurriaans
This Is That
Borderline Films
Distributed byFox Searchlight Pictures
Release dates
  • January 21, 2011 (2011-01-21) (Sundance)
  • October 21, 2011 (2011-10-21) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$5.4 million[3]

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a 2011 American psychological thriller-drama film written and directed by Sean Durkin, and starring Elizabeth Olsen (in her film debut), John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, and Hugh Dancy. The plot focuses on a young woman suffering from delusions and paranoia after returning to her family from an abusive cult in the Catskill Mountains.


A 22-year-old woman named Martha has been living as a member of a cult in the Catskill Mountains for two years. The leader of the cult, Patrick, granted her the name Marcy May upon her initiation. Eventually, she decides to flee and escapes into the woods, arriving at a nearby town. In a diner restaurant, she is confronted by Watts, a cult member, who attempts to persuade her to return, but when she refuses, he lets her leave. Martha calls her sister Lucy, who picks her up and takes her to the vacation lake house in Connecticut that she shares with her husband, a successful and wealthy architect named Ted.

While staying with Lucy and Ted at the lake house, Martha begins exhibiting strange behavior by skinny dipping in a public lake, sleeping all the time, not eating, and arguing with her sister and brother-in-law about how to live, specifically arguing over the need for career and possessions. Lucy reveals she abandoned Martha and is now attempting to get her back into her life, while she and Ted are also trying to have their own child. One night, Martha climbs into bed with Ted and Lucy while they are having sex, angering Ted. Martha then attempts to phone the cult, but hangs up when one of the female members answers using the code name "Marlene Lewis".

In flashbacks, Martha recalls a series of disturbing events that led to her escape the cult: Martha became a member through her friend, Zoe. She was drugged and brutally raped by Patrick in an initiation ritual, which she later facilitated for other incoming female members. She was then gaslit by cult matriarch Katie and was forced to accept what happened to her was good. Patrick would later urge her to kill a cat, which she refused to do. She subsequently began participating in burglaries with the other cultists, including one where they murdered a homeowner who walked in on them. After witnessing the murder, Martha had a mental breakdown before Patrick forcefully subdued and berated her for her failing to follow the cult's ideals, before gaslighting and fondling her, telling Martha that she is his favourite person.

Lucy and Ted host a party at their home, inviting numerous friends from the city. Martha is visibly nervous during the gathering and has a psychotic episode when she misidentifies the bartender as a cult member, and needs to be sedated. Ted attempts to convince Lucy to send Martha to a psychiatric hospital, an idea Lucy rejects.

Later that night, Martha has a nightmare, concerning her being raped again by Patrick, and suffers a panic attack. Ted tries to calm her down, but Martha, thinking he is Patrick, kicks him down the staircase. Lucy threatens to send Martha to a psychiatric hospital, to which Martha angrily responds that Lucy will be a terrible mother. The next day, Lucy and Martha somewhat reconcile, and Martha goes swimming. She sees a man watching her across the shore and leaves the water. When Martha departs the house with Lucy and Ted, she looks behind from the backseat of the car as another driver follows them.



Sean Durkin started writing the script of Martha Marcy May Marlene in 2007.[4] When researching his script, Durkin read about what he calls "the big ones" of cults: Jonestown, the Manson family, the Unification Church of the United States and David Koresh. He realised he wanted to make something more experiential than political and downplayed the ideology and goals of the cult.[5]

While researching, Durkin became fascinated by how someone gets into the farm or commune or group, and made a short film of the name Mary Last Seen about it starring Brady Corbet, who plays cult recruiter Watts in both the short and feature films. Mary Last Seen won the award for best short film at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival Directors' Fortnight. While Mary Last Seen was about how someone gets into the cult, Martha Marcy May Marlene was about what happens to someone when they get out of it. Durkin made the short to show the world Martha was in, and also with the intent to send it out with the script for Martha Marcy May Marlene to potential investors.[4] Mary Last Seen was selected for the Sundance Film Festival, and Durkin was given a distribution deal with Fox Searchlight.[6]

Durkin and cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes were inspired by the films Rosemary's Baby, 3 Women, Klute, Interiors, and Margot at the Wedding. The look of the film was particularly inspired by the last film.[7]

Elizabeth Olsen admitted that her nude scenes were a bit odd to film, but said that simply diving into the water was far more perilous than taking her clothes off in front of a camera because "The lake was daunting", so "Some lake scenes we could only shoot once, because it was physically too cold for a body to be in there very long."[8]


Martha Marcy May Marlene premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in January,[9] with Durkin winning the festival's U.S. Directing Award for Best Drama.[10] It also screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival[11][12] and at the 36th Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2011.[13] The film received a limited release in the United States on October 21, 2011.

In its opening weekend in limited release, Martha Marcy May Marlene grossed $137,651 in the United States.[14] 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released Martha Marcy May Marlene on DVD and Blu-ray on February 21, 2012.[15]


Martha Marcy May Marlene received highly positive reviews, with Olsen's performance as the traumatized Martha met with critical acclaim; the film holds a 90% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus capsule stating, "Led by a mesmerizing debut performance from Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a distinctive, haunting psychological drama."[16] On Metacritic the film has a 75 out of 100 score on 39 critic reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[17] Christy Lemire of the Associated Press named Martha Marcy May Marlene the best film of 2011.[18] Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, describing Olsen as "a genuine discovery ... She has a wide range of emotions to deal with here, and in her first major role, she seems instinctively to know how to do that." Ebert's only major complaint was that the movie's chronological shifts were "a shade too clever. In a serious film, there is no payoff for trickery."[19] In contrast, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian felt that the flashbacks were "cleverly and indirectly" structured throughout the film, and ultimately rated it with four stars out of five.[20]


Award Category Recipient(s) Outcome
Alliance of Women Film Journalists[21] Best Breakthrough Performance Elizabeth Olsen Won
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association[22] Best Film Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[23] Best New Filmmaker Sean Durkin Won
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards[23] Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[23] Most Promising Filmmaker Sean Durkin Won
Most Promising Performer Elizabeth Olsen Won
Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Screenplay, Original Sean Durkin Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society[23] Breakthrough Performance Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards[23] Pauline Kael Breakout Award Elizabeth Olsen Won
Ghent International Film Festival[24] Special Mention Elizabeth Olsen Won
Grand Prix (Best Film) Sean Durkin Nominated
Gotham Awards[25] Best Ensemble Cast Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy, Louisa Krause, Julia Garner, Brady Corbet, Maria Dizzia, Christopher Abbott Nominated
Breakthrough Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Breakthrough Director Sean Durkin Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards[26] Best Female Lead Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best First Feature Antonio Campos (producer), Sean Durkin (director), Patrick Cunningham (producer), Josh Mond (producer), Chris Maybach (producer) Nominated
Best Supporting Male John Hawkes Nominated
Producers Award Josh Mond Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[23] New Generation Award Sean Durkin, Antonio Campos, Josh Mond, Elizabeth Olsen Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards[23] Best Editing Zachary Stuart-Pontier Nominated
Best Lead Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Sean Durkin Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards[27] Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Satellite Awards[23] Best Actress in a Motion Picture Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Awards[23] Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated
Sundance Film Festival[28] Directing Award (Dramatic) Sean Durkin Won
Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) Sean Durkin Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards[29] Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best First Feature Sean Durkin Nominated
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award[23] Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Won
Village Voice Film Poll[30] Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards[23] Best Actress Elizabeth Olsen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Hawkes Nominated


  1. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene (15)". British Board of Film Classification. June 22, 2011. Retrieved July 12, 2013.
  2. ^ "The Q&A Podcast (interview with screenwriter-director Sean Durkin and producers Josh Mond & Antonio Campos)". The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith. October 21, 2011. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  3. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene". The Numbers. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Lodge, Guy (October 31, 2011). "Interview: Sean Durkin on confronting his fears in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'". Uproxx. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  5. ^ "Interview: Sean Durkin". Time Out. Archived from the original on January 23, 2013. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  6. ^ Benardello, Karen (February 26, 2012). "Press Conference Interview With The Cast And Crew Of Mary Last Seen". Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  7. ^ Guerrasio, Jason (October 23, 2011). "Trust Issues". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  8. ^ "Elizabeth Olsen Calls 'Martha' Nude Scenes 'Weird'". MTV News. October 20, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2022.
  9. ^ "2011 Sundance Film Festival Announces Films in Competition". December 1, 2010. Archived from the original on February 2, 2011. Retrieved January 21, 2011.
  10. ^ Guerrasio, Jason (May 15, 2011). "Sean Durkin". Screen Daily. Archived from the original on October 10, 2012.
  11. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Official Selection". Cannes Film Festival official site. Archived from the original on May 15, 2011. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
  12. ^ "Cannes film festival 2011: The full lineup". The Guardian. London. April 14, 2011. Retrieved April 16, 2011.
  13. ^ Lambert, Christine (2011), "Martha Marcy May Marlene premiere photos – 36th Toronto International Film Festival",, retrieved January 4, 2012
  14. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for October 21–23, 2011". Box Office Mojo. October 24, 2011. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  15. ^ Whitman, Howard (February 29, 2012). "Blu-ray Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene". Technologytell. Archived from the original on June 2, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  16. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  17. ^ "Martha Marcy May Marlene". Metacritic. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  18. ^ Lemire, Christy (December 22, 2011). "AP movie critic Christy Lemire's top 10 films of 2011". CBS News. Retrieved February 13, 2013.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 26, 2011). "The psychic damage of a cult group". Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  20. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (February 2, 2012). "Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)". The Guardian. Retrieved March 1, 2022.
  21. ^ "2011 EDA Awards Winners". Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  22. ^ "Austin Film Critics Association Announces Awards". Austin Chronicle. December 30, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Martha Marcy May Marlene". Fox Searchlight. Archived from the original on July 27, 2021. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  24. ^ "Elizabeth Olsen Wins Best Actress at Ghent Film Festival". The Hollywood Reporter. October 19, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  25. ^ ""Descendants," "Martha Marcy" Lead the Fox Searchlight-Friendly Gotham Award Nominations". IndieWire. October 20, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  26. ^ "Film Independent Spirit Awards". December 19, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  27. ^ "2011 Awards". San Diego Film Critics Society. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  28. ^ "Sundance Awards: 'Like Crazy' Wins Dramatic Grand Jury Prize". TheWrap. January 29, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  29. ^ "Past Award Winners". Toronto Film Critics Association. May 29, 2014. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  30. ^ Thompson, Anne (December 21, 2011). "'Tree of Life,' 'A Separation' Lead Village Voice Poll, 'Margaret' Lands Three Wins". IndieWire.


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